Concert Review

Black Sabbath's Final Tour Ended In Rare Form in Phoenix Last Night

It's an end of an era. Black Sabbath has played its final concert; the ride has stopped. A moment of silence for the best and most influential metal band in history. 

It didn't feel like the band's final concert last night at Ak-Chin Pavilion, despite the marketing video for the tour that promised to "close the final chapter in the final volume" of the Black Sabbath story after the Phoenix concert. But that pledge turned out to be false, as so many hyperbolic marketing slogans do. In reality, ending the band's 50-year history on a Wednesday night in Phoenix wasn't grand enough, so the band added a final leg to the tour. The final show — at the moment — will take place in England on February 4. 

But the hilariously metalhead crowd in Phoenix last night didn't get shortchanged. The show Black Sabbath put on last night was nothing short of spectacular, a blitz through some of the band's best work. Guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and singer Ozzy Osbourne showed why they deserve to be called legends. Drummer Tommy Clufetos did a more than adequate job filling in for Bill Ward, who's been estranged from the band for most of the past decade.

Sabbath kicked off the night with a video showing a CGI demon hatching from an egg and turning a city into a hellish inferno. It was a picturesque lead-in to the thundering heaviness and the devil's interval that is the intro riff to "Black Sabbath." Ozzy got his biggest flub of the night out of the way early — he inexplicably rushed through the vocal lines, as if he somehow couldn't hear the band — but the band played those riffs like they were weighed down by a thousand anvils. 

As the band kicked off the second song, the oft-underrated "Fairies Wear Boots," everything seemed to fall into place musically. Ozzy, who's 67 and can seemingly barely string a sentence together during interviews, hunched over the mic and belted with a voice that sounded straight out of 1970. 

A key and overlooked part of Sabbath's success is the band's obvious love and respect for blues and jazz. Listen to Black Sabbath past the title track and it's basically a heavy blues rock album. Ozzy once told Rolling Stone that Tony Iommi's songwriting process was to produce a "jazz piece, then go all folky ... and it worked." Iommi's roots as a blues/jazz lover are evident in how he plays. Iommi (and Butler as well) use a trick borrowed from blues guitarists — they play ever-so-slightly behind the beat of the drums. In a metal context, this helps create the band's signature plodding heaviness.

To pull off that heaviness live, it takes a tremendous amount of discipline, especially from the drummer. Clufetos is more rock 'n' roll and less jazzy than Sabbath's original drummer, Bill Ward, and he admirably held the tempo together last night. Instead of Ward's skittish, jazzy solo during "Rat Salad," Clufetos played a more traditional rock solo, but to no less effect. His solo showed both dexterity and smarts, weaving in and out of time with himself, pounding his two bass drums like they owed him money.

Geezer Butler's tone was monstrous and his performance stellar. One of Sabbath's most intriguing qualities is the guitar-bass interplay between Butler and Iommi; at their best the two play in perfect point-counterpoint fashion with one another. Songs like "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" and "Children of the Grave" rely heavily on Butler holding down the groove while Iommi plays lead, and there are few in the history of rock better at it than Butler. 

Iommi was terrific as well. Close-ups on the screens behind him showed the caps on his famously mangled fingers on his left hand. He played ferociously all night. 

The band didn't play an encore at Ak-Chin Pavilion so much as announce that they had one song left, and if the audience was good, they'd play another.  They instead played "Paranoid," and bowed as "Zeitgeist" played through the house speakers. The concert was over, with the words "The End" emblazoned on the screen behind them.

It might not have been the final Sabbath show, as was promised. But it was still a pretty entertaining way to go out, and the biggest sin of the concert was that it ended too early.  

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Black Sabbath at Ak-Chin Pavilion

The Opener: Rival Sons is a kickass rock band. 

"Yeah, Ozzy! Fuck yeah, Ozzy! OZ-ZY! OZ-ZY! OZ-ZY!"

Random Notebook Dump: "
How the hell am I supposed to review this concert? Everything I've written down so far is some variation on 'THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME.'"

Set List:

Black Sabbath
Fairies Wear Boots
After Forever
Into the Void
War Pigs
Behind the Wall of Sleep
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Iron Man
Dirty Women
Children of the Grave

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. on 9/22/2016.
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David Accomazzo is a music wrangler, award-winning reporter, critic, and editor with more than a decade in the business.
Contact: David Accomazzo